Ogilvy PR CEO Graves: PR Can Play a Role in Framing U.S.-China Issues

Photo: AP, Vincent Yu

Ogilvy PR’s China practice has partnered with the Center on U.S-China Relations at the Asia Society, the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and The Monitor Group to present and promote a new study “An American Open Door? Maximizing the Benefits of Chinese Foreign Direct Investment.” The report takes a look at the opportunities that could be missed if relations between the U.S. and China don’t thaw.

“We estimate that Chinese firms will place some $1 trillion to $2 trillion in direct investments around the world over the coming decade,” the study’s authors Daniel Rosen and Thilo Hanemann say in a press release. But the frosty American response to Chinese interest and a lack of corporate governance in China could derail any prospects for doing business.

Christopher Graves, global CEO of Ogilvy PR, told us this is a “wonderful report for the communications industry in general and PR specifically.”

“It’s about how are you going to frame this issue,” he said.

Christopher Graves

Ogilvy has a long history in China. The firm has been in China for three decades, has about 400 people working there (most are from the region), and is more commonly known by the Chinese as “Au Mei.” The firm also has an established relationship with the organizations behind this report. It has been working closely with the China Center as well, which means to help Chinese entrepreneurs make a way in the U.S. market.

Last month, the firm launched its China practice in New York with the goal of being “a bridge to smooth the way” to a better understanding between the U.S. and China. When launching the practice, Graves said he took a “strategic view,” looking at “demographic shifts, investment flows,” and other trends to determine how the future will look. With so much trade, Chinese investment (forecasts say China could invest as much as $2 trillion overseas over the next 10 years), and tourism, there’s opportunity aplenty.

“This is really a cautionary piece of counsel. The U.S. is really going to have to choose,” Graves told us. “If it wants to take a posture that China’s money is no good here… we want to point out the consequences of that. The U.S. is fragile economically. It needs a new engine of growth. What if the biggest, scariest rival was actually your biggest source of job creation?” As a parallel, Graves looks back to Japan, the negative feelings Americans once had towards that country, and the fact that now, “700,000 Americans in the U.S. work for Japanese companies.”

A feature story about the report and the news conference that was held this morning, featuring Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, appeared in today’s New York Times. Graves said, there will be another event on May 9 for the business and investment community, and another on May 13 in Silicon Valley.

“It’s important because the U.S. needs jobs and external investment,” he added. “China, though it is a rising star, can’t be cold or aloof or come off as a bully. They have to understand what comforts or frightens those populations that you want to invest in. It’s fascinating when you look at PR in that role.”

WPP recently released a positive Q1 2011 earnings announcement, and Graves talked up the overall strength of the firm, as well as its strength in the U.S. (he called it a “star grower”) and its long-standing strength in Asia, which he says will continue to grow over the next two years.

In the near future, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be meeting with their Chinese counterparts next week, making the timing of this report ideal.

“This is a giant economic and trade issue in the U.S. and China,” he said. “How can we get both parties to understand each other?”